Tokyo has undoubtedly the highest fashion and style density in the world. We’re not talking about certain districts or streets, the whole city is just rammed with retail and individual style. So how did a young Frenchman move there on a whim with nothing and within 2 years manage to establish himself as an up-and-coming style icon, in- demand street style photographer and owner of an exciting new brand? Strangely enough, there was no master plan for Nicolas “Yuthanan” Chalmeau as we learnt after speaking with him. Let’s begin on how his journey to Japan started …
FIRST TIME TO JAPAN
Although Nicolas was a fan of Japanese brands and designers, unlike most people making their first pilgrimage to Tokyo, he didn’t have a burning desire to get there. It was around 5 years ago in Thailand (Nicolas is half-Thai) that he and his best friend found cheap tickets to Tokyo and just wanted to do something new. As he puts it, “I was not a fan of Japanese food (yet), I never watched anime or read manga.” However, a strange feeling came to him when he touched down at Narita airport, “I felt home, I had a crazy feeling about being home 12,000km away from Paris, I just told myself I have to live here and in one and a half years that’s what I did with just 1,000 Euro in hand.”Things got tough when rent money quickly ran out in expensive Tokyo city and Nicolas had to sell shoes and ask family for help when the work he was getting wasn’t enough to cover everything. However, making an effort to get out and socialise saw him getting the opportunity to work for the select store 1LDK, they hired him to take on the roles of photographer, stylist, sales and buyer.
BECOMING A PHOTOGRAPHER
Nicolas’ tenure at 1LDK only lasted 3 months due to him wanting to concentrate on his own label, which is a direct conflict with company policy and led to him resigning. At the same time he came to Tokyo, he taught himself how to use a camera by practicing day and night. He now shoots for Highsnobiety and works on editorials for several brands and shops across the world. Being a stylist, his photography often comes packaged with his styling capabilities. He doesn’t do print and solely focuses on creating content for Instagram. “I understand what makes a good picture, what people want, because I myself am from Instagram, so I know what people like on Instagram, so when i shoot I am using my camera as my phone screen. After one and a half years now I don’t consider myself a pro, but i know what i am doing and I know what people want so thats why I have a lot of work lined up.”
AND SILLAGE IS BORN Pronounced See-Yazh, Sillage is a French word that roughly translates to the signature scent or aura someone / something’s presence leaves behind. Many would probably assume that Nicolas moved to Tokyo to start his clothing brand, but as he puts it himself, “I am a big guy so I need to wear big clothes and in Japan it’s hard to find big clothes. There are brands like Kapital that make big stuff, or you could go to a vintage store and find some XXL stuff but it’s still rare in Japan. So I just wanted a brand that I can wear, for big people and for people that like oversized style.” Being a connoisseur of menswear and street style, sub-standard quality will not do for Nicolas, so he produces Sillage in the Okayama region, famed for their high quality production facilities and craftsmanship. “I want to go even deeper into craftsmanship in Japan, from next winter I will produce some jerseys with Toki, one of the most famous loopwheeler factories in Japan, they work with Dries Van Noten and are extremely selective with who they work with, but thanks to my partner they said yes. We will be making our own jerseys and oversized sweaters.”
Another thing that makes Sillage different for a label that started in Tokyo, Japan, is that it’s only available through Instagram and pop-ups where Nicolas has full control of ensuring goods aren’t discounted at the expense at the brand’s image. “For me, I had no choice but to wear XL because it was the only size that fits me as I got bigger, I started to make it more fashionable because people were pushing me to do more, so I did it. So in a way I found it for my followers too, they pushed me and I made that brand for them, I am very thankful for all the people that followed me for a long time, because they pushed me to be who I am now and I am making the brand because of them and for them. Thats why I feel I have to stay on instagram and not open a shop, I have to stay how I started and just wear big clothes, have fun and just enjoy things”.
BRINGING BIG QUALITY TO BIG CLOTHES “Oversized clothes are usually related to hip-hop, which in turn is not the most famous music genre associated with quality garments, so I want to make oversized clothes inspired by hip-hop but with Japanese sensibilities. Good cut, good fabric, good production for big clothes. Such a label doesn’t exist on the market now, so I want to be the first premium oversized brand with a Western eye coming out of Japan.”